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SIOP'S Pro Bono Initiative

Ann Marie Ryan
Michigan State University

A few years back, in his presidential address, Jim Farr talked about the need for SIOP members to "give psychology away." At a SIOP Executive Committee strategic planning meeting held in January of 1998, a top priority that emerged was encouraging I-O psychologists to take on pro bono projects that can help society while enhancing the visibility of SIOP and its members. Since that meeting, members of SIOP's executive committee have spend time discussing and defining what SIOP's role in the encouragement of pro bono work might be. The outcome of those discussions led to the following framework for the initiative:

The purposes of this initiative are to encourage members to do pro bono work. By pro bono work, we mean activities undertaken gratis by SIOP members that relate to the work of I-O psychology. By endorsing member pro bono activity, SIOP does not endorse any particular political, social, or religious group or agenda; rather the society recognizes the importance of giving psychology away to those organizations and individuals who may not have the resources to afford such work but would benefit from it.

Activities associated with the initiative are:

  • A regular TIP column highlighting particular outlets and/or pro bono activities of members.

  • Environmental scanning to identify potential opportunities of particular interest to SIOP members (e.g., requests from national not-for-profits; large scale volunteer efforts that have need of SIOP expertise) and alerting the membership of such opportunities.

  • Website to serve as a clearinghouse for individuals and organizations that want to participate in pro bono activities that relate to the work of SIOP.

  • Publicize the initiative in a limited way to not-for-profits with the goal of generating highly visible projects that might then be publicized to members.

In the weeks ahead, president-elect Angelo DeNisi will be appointing an individual to spearhead this initiative. If you have thoughts or ideas related to the initiative activities, please contact Angelo or the SIOP Administrative Office.

Some questions you may have are: Why is SIOP pursuing this? Isn't this something for individuals to decide to pursue on their own? And Who has time for this? (Or at least those were some of my initial questions).

In answer to the first, we can point to the many professions (including psychology in general) where some level of pro bono work is considered an appropriate professional contribution (e.g., lawyers, doctors). We recognize that organizations and individuals who cannot readily afford the services of an I-O psychologist might benefit greatly (and society itself benefit) from those services. Finally, one way to enhance the visibility and understanding of industrial/organizational psychology as a field is to increase access to what we do.

In answer to the second question, SIOP most definitely does see this as a matter of individual choice. However, the society also recognizes that it can take a role as a facilitator of individual efforts and help collectives of individuals tackle large-scale pro bono projects. Such projects can have long-lasting societal impact but can also help advance our research understanding. For example, a number of SIOP members were involved in pro bono work with the National Association of Secondary School Principals which led to the use of assessment center technology in evaluating principal candidates. This project led to a widespread adoption of I-O tools and techniques, to a number of research studies, and also to further paid work for some society members. One goal of the initiative is to facilitate individuals working together on larger efforts.

The third question was personally the most troubling for me. A few years ago I attempted to do some pro bono work in the area of job-seeking skills and employability skills training with individuals on probation. I learned a tremendous amount during the months I was involved with this effort, but I felt I could not continue to make the time commitment required. Thus, I thought it might be helpful to seek out some individuals who I know are extremely busy people but who have been able to be involved at some level in pro bono work and find out more about what they do and how they do it.

Laura Koppes, of Tri-State University School of Business and SIOP's historian, described her work on the board of directors for two organizations, the Steuben County Literacy Coalition, and the Elijah Haven Crisis Intervention Center which is an agency for domestic violence victims. How has Laura contributed her services as an I-O psychologist to these organizations? She has done job analyses for both paid and volunteer positions, assisted in recruitment and selection activities, and brought her knowledge of I-O to bear on the formulation of various policies for both organizations. Laura notes that besides the personal rewards of giving something to one's community and seeing improvements as a result of one's efforts, there are professional rewards from generalizing one's skills to new situations and problems. As a busy person herself, Laura says you must find a way to make the time to engage in pro bono activities.

I also contacted Bill Balzer, chair of the psychology department at Bowling Green State University, and a very busy mentor, researcher, and dad, and asked him to talk about work he has done and how he does it. Bill provides I-O psychology consulting services pro bono to the Children's Resource Center, a mental health facility for children. In addition to general consultation to the executive team, Bill has assisted the organization in developing various personnel systems (e.g., a performance appraisal process for staff) and assessing employee attitudes. Bill finds that the work is very rewarding when you believe in the organization's mission and that organizations such as this are very appreciative of your expertise. He also notes that research has indicated that you may find a task more satisfying when it is not for payment. Bill indicates that BGSU's graduate program encourages pro bono work among students as well, as a way to enhance the community, develop the skills of students, and provide research opportunities. When I asked Bill how he finds the time for such activities, he noted that, like exercise, you have to establish this as a priority and somehow schedule it in. He also notes that non-paying recipients of your services are usually very willing to work around your schedule.

Both Laura and Bill are in academic settings, which typically afford an individual some control over his/her schedule. What about busy practitioners? I contacted Lisa Bordinat, Kirk Rogg, and John Arnold of Aon Consulting regarding their pro bono work. All three mentioned their involvement in pro bono work came from the suggestions or requests of current clients who had links to nonprofit groups. Like Laura, Lisa is involved with work with Haven, a local organization dedicated to the elimination of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. She is involved with providing compensation training to managers in a case where the organization has grown to need greater structure. Lisa feels that pro bono efforts allow you to use your skills to have an impact in an area you personally feel strongly about, and provide an organization with something that is truly needed but that would otherwise not be undertaken because of cost. One way Lisa suggests fitting pro bono work into a busy schedule is to treat it like any other project. At Aon, she is accountable for this project's cost, time, and deadlines as she would for any other project. Having her organization's commitment and acting on her own personal passion helps her to find the time and energy for this project. She suggests that SIOP members think of ways they can volunteer their skills in small ways to local organizations (e.g., helping a church or temple use a structured interview guide for screening childcare workers).

Kirk Rogg and John Arnold describe Aon's view on pro bono work as a win-win opportunity. They have worked with Focus Hope, a Detroit-based nonprofit agency that works to provide job and life skills to underprivileged minorities. Besides providing general information on the skills required for success in manufacturing jobs, they refined and evaluated a telephone-based, automated tool to pre-screen applicants into the assessment process for jobs with large automotive manufacturers. Their involvement in the project enabled those receiving the organization's high quality training to connect with those offering well-paying jobs. Kirk and John noted that the project took a fairly substantial amount of time, but felt it had both personal and professional payoff. Personally, it was exciting to see their work have a major life impact on individuals. Professionally, they were able to obtain information to refine a pre-screening product.

In summary, it's important to note that SIOP as an organization encourages pro bono work by members and that many of your fellow SIOP members are actively involved in such work (Thanks to Laura, Bill, Lisa, Kirk and John for being willing to share what they do). In the months ahead, SIOP hopes to do more to encourage member involvement in both local pro bono work as well as large-scale projects on a national and international level.

If You Have a Pro Bono Project to Suggest, Please Contact:

Angelo DeNisi, SIOP President-Elect
Department of Management
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843-4221
Phone: (409) 862-3963
E-mail: adenisi@cgsb.tamu.edu 

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